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Primarily Teaching

by on August 6, 2010


The Hoover Presidential Library hosted a summer workshop for educators on “Using Historical Documents in the Classroom” on July 26-30, 2010. The workshop provided a varied program of lectures,  analysis of documents and independent research that introduced teachers to the holdings and organization of the Library of Congress and the Hoover Presidential Library. Participants did research in historical records and created classroom materials from these  primary sources. The lesson plans will be available on the Hoover Website beginning September 1st.


Mallori August 10, 2010 at 3:48 pm

I have just finished a wonderful week at the Herbert Hoover Library researching life for soldiers during World War I. Having just completed this time, I wish I had another week to spend here! As a history teacher I spend a lot of time creating lesson plans, and grading homework, and writing objectives, but I don’t get to spend a lot of time actually “doing history” because of all the other obligations that I have. Spending a week researching this topic has really allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of what it was like to be a soldier in World War I, but it has also allowed me to spend some time being a historian- which I truly loved. I was also able to spend hours finding the resources I think will get my students excited about this topic, and really give them a better idea of what it was like to live through the “Great War.” I personally love to use historical documents in my classroom. I feel it enrichens the curriculum that the students are learning by showing them how events in the past affected average people. By teaching history by incorporating personal histories, it makes history really come alive to my students.By looking at some of the more well known documents in history the students can also see exactly where some of our notions of freedom, liberty, natural rights etc. actually come from. It helps to make history more of a cohesive story instead of discrete chunks of people and events. Analyzing these documents also gives students skills that they can use in their future careers. While they may not remember a specific document, the ability to read and understand a new piece of writing will benefit them tremendously. I greatly enjoyed my time here at the Hoover Library and at the Iowa Women’s Archives, and I hope that I can come back soon to continue my research!

Mindy August 10, 2010 at 3:52 pm

The value of this week has been extremely high for me. I have always tried to use primary sources in my classroom, but I am never quite sure that I am using them effectively. This week long course has enabled me to focus on a specific topic and narrow down the most valuable and critical documents that were available to enhance my lesson. I think that sometimes the most difficult thing as a teacher is having the TIME to sift through information and narrow it down for students. This week has been invaluable to this process. We were given a wonderful amount of time and excellent resources to work with. I feel like just having the time to complete the research process and then lesson plan development was extremely valuable. I wish that I always had this much quality time to do research. I think being prepared and doing accurate research makes me a better teacher.

I think that the use of historical documents has an enormous impact on the educational experience. Being able to learn about our history may not always seem interesting to students, but when you can put physical proof into someone’s hands, it makes history come alive. I use historical documents because I want students to see the work that someone did to make their lives what they are today. Whether it is a copy of the Constitution or an interview someone gave or a poster designed for a campaign, the physicality of documents makes history real to people. I also think that using historical documents challenges students. In an educational world where we are focused on rigor and relevance, historical documents play a role. It is challenging reading, but in a good way. It challenges us to interpret, analyze, and evaluate. The old saying goes that history repeats itself. What better way to learn than to look at past documents and make changes.


Todd August 10, 2010 at 4:06 pm

The development of high quality lesson plans takes time, a resource most teachers have in short supply – even in the summer. Thus, having the opportunity so focus for an entire week on the creation of a lesson is incredibly valuable for improving the quality of the curriculum one teaches. For me the compensation for the week’s work was critical too, because otherwise I simply would not have been able to afford to spend a week of my summer, during which I do various non-teaching jobs and continue my education, writing new lessons.

I have been thrilled with my Primarily Teaching experience, during which I have gained greater familiarity with the Library of Congress and other archives that contain a wealth of primary sources available for use in the classroom with guidance from expert historians and archivists and in friendly informal collaboration with other teachers.

Richard August 17, 2010 at 10:43 am

For me as a veteran teacher of 37 years …I found new energy in being prepared to go back this fall with a new tool to teach US History or US Government at all levels. The use of the Hoover Library and Library of Congress gave me a new tool to make my class more effective and more interesting for me/students. To see how much is available in the Library of Congress and other areas in the history community has given me also a sense of “I have not done it all yet!!” Teaching from the book is not teaching history. Finding out how history was made is a better way of learning. To give students a new avenue of looking at where this nations has been, where it is now, and where can it go from here…..that is the history we are all excited to learn about. When we had the opportunity to meet with experts in the various fields of History it enabled me to see things a little differently…to look deeper below the surface of events or people. I know now that the Library of Congress had information that I wish I had for a lesson, or to have for a student that just had a natural curiosity about an individual or event….now I have an avenue to point that student too…let him/her follow it….and let history become an adventure, not a long dreary journey through a lot of old facts and dates. This has been a week where everyday I was excited about coming. Wondering what will I learn today? What new piece of history is out there that I will know the location of to use for my class this school year? How could I make my classroom a place where students can look at information and make their own conclusions about history? Its been one of the best weeks of my professional career. I would love to be back again next year.

Historical people and places have powerful and provocative stories to tell. The primary source documents are the witnesses to the past, they recall the events that have shaped history and the people who faced those situations and issues. We tend to make personal connections to past history when given the chance to develop an understanding of what happened in the our country’s/world/’s past; and also we can find the answer as to why did it happen that particular way. .In an article by the National Park Service called “ Using Historic Place to Teach” ,historian David McCullough explains in “Brave Companions” , “ When we experiencing places it “helps in making contact with those who were there before in other days. It’s a way to find them as fellow human beings, as necessary as the digging you do in libraries.”
Using primary documents makes it possible to feel the emotions and desperation of a Bonus Army marcher walking across the country, to asked the Congress for an advance on there Veteran Bonus as the Depression begins. We are able to how towns, states, and even governments were impacted by the wishes, desires, and beliefs held by men and women of this nation. to feel its connections to history. Through a variety of materials and activities, Students learn to observe, gather facts, compare and contrast, synthesize and analyze, evaluate sources of evidence, develop and test hypotheses, and draw conclusions. Ultimately, teaching with and about historic primary documents benefits everyone. Educators have one more means with which to engage and excite students, students acquire knowledge from and an appreciation for cultural resources, and we have students that have a “sense of value” to what they have been taught in any class that would use PRIMARY DOCUMENTS. This is not just a HISTORY thing….It can become an multi-subject curriculum experience making their education more relevant to the demands of a global society; and to give them skills that will help them meet the challenges of the future..

Ashley August 17, 2010 at 10:46 am

The value of having one week to work:
I cannot thoroughly express the value of having one week to
complete the lesson! In addition to feeling like the
proverbial kid in the candy shop, I realized from a
researcher’s stand point that many more questions arise as
one dives into the endless world of artifacts. This creates
many opportunities for critical thinking, questioning,
visualizing, making connections, and the strong possibility
of finding something one feels truly passionate about.

Other than the splendor of holding a piece of history in
one’s hands, historical documents are an authentic glimpse
into the past. Documents support learning and discovery.
They can be up for interpretation, and sometimes they can be
conclusive and indesputable. Teaching and learning with
historical documents is to promote analysis and evaluation
skills, and provides concrete answers.

Lastly, I would like to thank the Hoover Archival “family”
for creating a welcoming and exciting environment down to
the last minute!


Andrea August 17, 2010 at 10:48 am

There is no greater gift to a school teacher than the gift
of time and to have a week to research to prepare a lesson
plan is of immeasurable value. Just as important as the
time is the opportunity to carry out one’s research in a
quiet, comfortable, academic setting with no distractions,
which is what the Hoover Library offered in abundance. To
have experts to assist one with one’s questions and to
have access to so much information and technology was an
amazing experience. I only wish it were two weeks, because a
week is barely enough time to do justice to a collection
such as the one offered digitally by the Library of

2. Why is it important to use historical documents in the

As a teacher, one has a responsibility to educate and shape
good citizens who can contribute and participate in American
democratic processes. Using historical documents is an
excellent way to nurture a connection between these neophyte
citizens and this nation and its past, for it allows for a
personal and intimate connection with that past. Instead of
relying on a secondary source of information, such as a
textbook, or a classroom teacher, the use of primary sources
of information allow the student to actively engage with the
information. Historical documents demand that the student
engage in critical reading and thinking skills, for they ask
the student to interpret, analysis and synthesis information
which is given to them fresh and raw. It also allows the
student to understand how one’s own point of view, and
every historian’s point of view, helps shape how such
documents are interpreted, understood and presented in
textbooks. There is just a whole lot of educational value
in using primary sources in the classroom, and they are
valuable as supplemental materials to everyday lessons.

Margo Massey August 17, 2010 at 12:44 pm

My week at the Hoover Presidential Library was truly amazing. I am a strong believer in the importance of using primary documents in the classroom and this class provided me with all of the tools and knowledge necessary to utilize primary documents on-line as well as in archives. The staff at the Hoover Presidential Library was incredibly helpful. They were proverbially encyclopedias of information and were available throughout the week to answer questions and point me in the right direction. Not only did I complete a new unit that I will use in my classroom next year, I also received numerous documents that I will utilize in several additional lessons. The most important aspect of the class was that now I know how to access primary documents and will be more easily able to utilize some wonderful new resources in my classroom. Also, I am confident that the staff at the Hoover Presidential Library and the University of Iowa Archives will serve as wonderful new contacts that I will definitely utilize in the future.

The reason I think it is important to use primary documents in the classroom is because it makes history “real” to students. It also makes them think…and that’s my job, to make them think? Primary documents make students think because they have not only read the information on the document but they also have to interpret it. Who wrote the document? Why did they write the document? When was the document written? And the questions go on and on. Using primary documents is like being a detective and figuring how it fits in solving a case. Students love challenges and primary documents can be used to challenge students. An example of one of my favorite lessons using primary documents is a lesson that I found on the Library of Congress website that utilizes Rosa Park’s arrest records and handwritten correspondence during the Civil Rights Movement. Even some of my students who were not good readers were highly motivated to read and interpret what Rosa had to say!

I would highly recommend the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources to other teachers. It is one of the very best classes I have ever taken and I hope to come back again next summer!

Angie August 17, 2010 at 1:21 pm

This week has been the best workshop experience I have had in over 30 years of teaching! Not only did we get updated instruction on how to use the wealth of digital primary sources from the Library of Congress but we had access to an amazing variety of materials and expertise offline at the Hoover Library. It was such a rare privilege to learn directly from professional historians, curators, authors and archivists. We were treated to outstanding guest speakers/instructors not only from Iowa, but even the national Archives and George Nash via video conference. I appreciated that the professional staff at the Hoover Library/Museum respected me as a teacher, honoring my questions, and expanding my understanding of what can be gained by studying a primary sources and how they do their work. It was a really a luxury to have the staff available each day to help guide my research and I was amazed at the individualized support the participants received.
Thanks again for a wonderful week! I look forward to future collaborations.

Rick Blondo August 27, 2010 at 4:55 pm

The picture showing all those teachers smiling: Worth a Thousand Words.
The thousand words in the comments above:
Keep up the good work teachers and Hoover Library staff. I enjoyed reading the posts.

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